Tag Archives: Media

Up on the Soap Box: How the Media Portrays Politics

Political intrigue abounds; a private argument turns swiftly into a public scandal. By the close of the first scene, a supporting character faces public scrutiny and a career-ending press conference – all of it machinated by a corrupt politician. When seen through the silver screen, politics is chock-full of nail-biting excitement and sensationalized drama. However, the day-to-day grind of political work falls far short of the Machiavellian epics viewers expect from their television shows. For those of us active in the field, the misconceptions regarding our work can be frustrating to fight against, if not downright damaging. Everyone loves a well-made fictional political drama, but what happens when voters forget the “fictional” modifier and take the toxic machinations they see on-screen as representative of real political action?

 

The political arena’s affiliation with cinema stretches back to the films of the early 20th century. Even then, depicted events were dramatized to appeal to mass audiences – and why wouldn’t they be? Consider a truthful medical show. The idea of watching a doctor work frantically to save someone’s life seems exciting…until you realize that doing so means viewing an hours-long tape of a surgeon poking around in the operating room. Film is inherently escapist; we choose to view movies and television episodes because they take us out of the banalities and stresses of day-to-day life and into an delightful (fictional) world where we ourselves have no stake in a story’s outcome. Film is meant to entertain, so it must be made entertaining. Thus, more accurate depictions of a politician reviewing policy documents or sending fundraising emails are set to the side; replaced by scandalous plot twists meant to entice viewers into watching just one more episode.

 

This isn’t to say that movies can’t tell us something about our political reality. The messages these pieces convey, however, are often more subtle than those we expect from direct political dramas. Think back to just before the Reagan era, in the 1970s and early 80s. As the decade turned, films such as Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind were released with much public acclaim. But wait, you might say – these aren’t political films at all! They both are and aren’t. In his article “Film, Politics, and Ideology: Reflections on Hollywood Film in the Age of Reagan,” film scholar Douglas Kellnes notes that the films rising to popularity in the years before Reagan’s administration increasingly showcased conservative values such as individual initiative and hard work (Star Wars), as well as a vilification of large, corrupt governments (The Parallex View). Interestingly enough, Kellnes finds that an analytical viewer could have predicted Reagan’s emergence as a conservative leader by noting the increased right-leaning principles expressed in the era’s popular films.

 

Where, then, does this leave us as politically-minded viewers? First, we need to keep the fictionality of the shows we watch in mind in order to combat the negative stereotypes created by politically-inspired shows. That way, we can trust in the professionalism our politicians demonstrate without waiting for the next scandal or paying attention to blatant sensationalism in the media. Then, we need to keep our metaphorical fingers on the pulse of American cinema. What are Americans watching? What does popular content tell us about the ideological leanings of our country? A little beyond-the-polls analysis may provide us with unconventional insight into our country’s ever-shifting political leanings.

 

Camera Ready: How to Prep for a Televised Interview

The day is September 28, 1960, and depending on how you tuned in, Richard Nixon just won a historic debate against John F. Kennedy. Most historical sources name JFK as the winner of that debate in September – but had it not been for the onset of broadcast television in politics, Nixon may well have been listed as the winner. According to TIME magazine, those surveyed after the debate fell into two remarkably disparate camps: those who had heard the debate over radio broadcast and believed Nixon had won handily, and those who had watched the debate on live television and thought that JFK had snatched a victory.

 

This particular event was a turning point for politicians and the media. Prior to that day, coverage for political events were confined to radio broadcasts. The onset of television coverage allowed the American people to see the politicians they had previously only heard – and the televised Nixon, who was still pale and recovering from a recent hospitalization, appeared frail against the younger and more vital-looking JFK.

 

From a standpoint of logical debate, Nixon may have been the winner of the night – but under the harsh gaze of a camera, he was left disadvantaged. When broadcasted across radio waves, a candidate’s points are boiled down to the bare arguments and policies.  Television, in contrast, pushes the viewers to make additional judgements based on a candidate’s body language, wardrobe, and expression.

 

If Nixon’s hardship with television teaches aspiring politicians anything, it is that candidates should be prepared to face the media in all of its forms. Readying for an interview requires considerable thought and dedicated preparation time. Here few steps a candidate should complete before a broadcast interview.

 

Set the interview context.

Where will the interview take place? How long will it be expected to continue for? Which topics will you be discussing?

 

All of these questions need to be answered in detail before a candidate tapes on a mic. An interview at a campaign office has a different context and requires different in-office preparation than an interview recorded at a studio. A candidate who walks in without proper knowledge of what the interview will be focused on risks appearing confused, disorganized, or even uninformed on-camera.

 

Walk in prepared! Set expectations well before the interview date, and arrange accordingly.

 

Do your research.

“Winging it” may have been a useful strategy during college finals, but it should never be included in a candidate’s toolbox. The last thing aspiring political figures want is to appear out-of-touch with current political events – or worse, with their own policies.

 

Make sure to review national and local current events as well as your held campaign policies and the opposition’s arguments against them. Have snappy quotes and statistics in hand to support your position, and consider running a few recorded practice interviews. This will not only help you prepare, but it will also help you find body language or tics that translate poorly on screen.

 

Prepare your staff.

Most reporters won’t be satisfied with simply talking to a candidate – to get a full picture, they may wander around the office in search of a talkative campaign aide. Remember, everything is on the record unless a specific agreement is made to prohibit recorded comment – so talk to your staff! Warn them of the reporter’s visit well in advance, and then again on the day of the interview. Circulate a memo with official talking points to avoid confusion, and consider appointing a media-savvy staffer to act as a guide for the reporter.  

 

Finally, remember to clean up the campaign office before the visit! No candidate wants to be known as the politician who can’t keep their own house in order.

 

Stay clear, concise, and on-message.

Speakers will do nearly anything to avoid awkward silences – and reporters know it! In fact, many use long pauses as a means to encourage the interviewee to talk more. Left unchecked, a nervous interviewee might break off onto a rambling tangent, and drop their well-thought-out talking points.


Stay concise and directed! Answer questions, but remember not to wander off onto conversational paths that will land you in hot political water later. Prepare clear talking points, and stick to them!

 

Building positive rapport with the media is a must for all candidates – so prepare for interviews accordingly! Without proper care, eager candidates may well end find themselves in Nixon’s position, and lose their logical edges under a camera’s superficial gaze.

How to Maintain a Healthy Relationship with the Press

Although the First Amendment guarantees our right to a free press, relationships between the media and politicians have always been tense. For example, President John F. Kennedy had a relationship with the press that at times devolved into censorship, withholding of information, and at times deception in order to contain stories the administration considered hostile to its goals. The relationships between politicians and reporters doesn’t need to be so extreme, however, so if you’re running for office, take a look at what you can do to foster a healthy relationship with the press!

Don’t Hide

You may feel tempted to avoid talking to the press altogether, but this idea will more than likely backfire. If you don’t talk to the media and try to keep them at arm’s length, then they’ll grow to distrust you and try to dig into your past in an attempt to learn what, if anything, you’re trying to hide. In addition, if you refuse to discuss your ideas or your campaign with reporters, the result will be critical coverage and articles that may drive public opinion against you.

Instead, from time to time, reach out to journalists so that you can take control of the narrative of your campaign. You can set the terms of the meeting: If you want to talk in-depth about a policy or if you’re afraid of being ambushed by a large group of reporters, consider hosting one-on-one interviews. On the other hand, if you want to quickly issue a few statements and avoid looking like you’ve got something to hide, then regular press conferences might be the best approach for you.

Talk to a Range of Media Outlets

Resist the urge to grant press access only to the outlets that give you favorable coverage. This opens you up to accusations of cronyism and an unwillingness to listen to criticism. At the same time, since the audiences of the publications or programs that support you are most likely going to vote for you on election day, only reaching out to reporters who have covered you favorably isn’t going to attract many new or undecided voters–if any at all–to your cause.

With that in mind, stay in touch with a range of journalists, both those who support you as well as those who have been critical. You’ll dispel notions of favoritism or pandering while working to engage a broader swath of the electorate.

Be Honest

If you’re dishonest with a reporter and it comes to light, that might be the last thing you do as a candidate for public office. Lying destroys your credibility and reputation not just with the press but with the voters as well, and as a result, your campaign will more than likely be finished. You can work with your campaign staff to determine what language you want to use, but even when it’s uncomfortable to tell the truth, never, never, lie to the press!